Taking customers on a journey with blockchain

In a world that's increasingly looking for transparency and authenticity, blockchain can make a significant contribution - be it in diamond mines or at whiskey distilleries.
13 April 2018

Today, blockchain makes it possible for customers to know where their whiskey came from. Source: Shutterstock

B lockchain’s inherent ability to allow more secure, transparent and easy tracking of different transactions and objects is set to revolutionize the supply chain.

In addition to its track and trace abilities, the credibility of which has been backed by major firms such as IBM and global shipper Maersk, blockchain can also help connect customers with a product’s ‘origin story’ and give reassurance of provenance.

Arc-net, for example, is a platform that uses blockchain to form a sequence of events into an immutable chain of custody. It focuses on the food and drink sector where there is an increased demand for high quality, artisanal products.

Last year, the company announced what it called the “world’s first initiative” to track artisanal beer from Ireland Craft Beers on the platform to allow customers to fully trace the product’s ingredients from source.

Using a QR smart code on the beer’s label the customer can access an “online experience” that details how the individual product was made.

“More than ever, consumers want to know where their food and drink comes from, so capturing and sharing production, process and product data with customers is central to having a brand that is trusted and respected. Consumers want transparency, they want authenticity, and blockchain enables that,” Ireland Craft Beers Co-Founder and Director Liam Brogan said in a press release.

Arc-net, which is partnering with PwC to develop its technology further, has also uniquely marked and authenticated each bottle of Adelphi whisky distillery’s latest Ardnamurchan Distillery limited spirit release.

Buyers of the product receive a certificate of authenticity eliminating the risk of fraudulent substitutions that are known to occur in the GPB5.5 billion whisky and spirit market, according to the company.

Global quality assurance and risk management company DNV GL’s Digital Transformation Director Renato Grottola said blockchain technology could provide a “new digital assurance”.

“It allows you to push traceability of a product much closer to a single item than before. Maybe in the past, a manufacturer was tracing a batch of products in the supply chain but this allows firms to trace a single item at a relatively small cost,” he says.

DNV GL has partnered with VeChain to use blockchain to improve the transparency of product and supplier information.

It is the quality assurance and product story that offers a “unique selling point”, says Grottola.

“A company can share with the consumer the story of the products and certain aspects of their transformation; this offers a value from a marketing point of view.”

Other companies are investing in this approach. Precious stones retailer De Beers has said it will use a blockchain ledger to track diamonds each time they change hands, starting from the moment they are mined. The firm wants to provide cast-iron guarantees to consumers its diamonds are ethically mined and natural stones, as opposed to synthetic ones. Everledger is doing something similar with diamonds and other commodities.

The word “blockchain” has become an attention-grabbing buzzword that garners publicity in its own right. But the proof of provenance it can provide, especially for products where consumer trust may be lacking, and the customer engagement it affords can give certain products a new advantage in the market by better connecting the end user to the production process.